Roots: The O’Hara Clan

O'Hara Family Coat of Arms.

By Mary Gallagher, Editorial Assistant
April / May 2018

The name O’Hara has held a distinguished place in Ireland for centuries. The current spelling is an anglicized pronunciation of the original Irish Ó hEaghra, meaning “descended from Eaghra” (rhymes with “Tara”).

Bearers of the name are believed to be the generational offspring of 10th century Irish chief Eaghra (d. 976), who governed the areas around today’s Leyny, County Sligo. The clan was a branch of the family of Olioll Ollum, who was king of Munster.

The stalwart O’Haras divided into two separate groups around 1350, with one remaining in the Sligo/ Leitrim border region and the other migrating east to the Route, County Antrim – the two locations in Ireland where the name is still most commonly held today. The name first appeared in writing in 1585 in the Composition Book of Connacht, a directory of contemporary Irish clans and their landholdings.

Rev. William O’Hara, 1893. (Photo: Library of Congress)

More numerous and wealthy, the Sligo O’Haras managed to maintain their inherited lordship over more than 21,000 acres of territory in harmony for about 500 years, until the Cromwellian wars saw them overwhelmed and their land confiscated by the British invasion. A detailed record of the clan’s chiefs remains intact in a famous book of praise poems called the Book of O’Hara, written in a vellum manuscript in the late 16th century. It is stored today in the National Library of Ireland’s manuscript department.

Periods of mass Irish emigration eventually spread the name worldwide, particularly in America, where it is, perhaps surprisingly, at its most popular in the state of Hawaii, followed by, less surprisingly, the northeastern states. While the spelling has varied over the centuries and regions, O’Hara is one of the few names to steadfastly maintain the “O” prefix.

Actress Maureen O’Hara.

Over the years, O’Haras have continued to carve out their place in history with remarkable achievements. In 1706, Lieutenant General Charles O’Hara (d. 1724) was appointed the first baron of Tyrawley for his service in the British army. Irish-born James O’Hara (d. 1819) settled in Pennsylvania in 1772 and served as quartermaster general in the colonial army at Fort Lee, Virginia, from 1792 to 1796. Later, his successful business dealings made him able to purchase land on the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania, an area still known today as the Township of O’Hara.

James was certainly not the only revolutionary O’Hara, however: Kean O’Hara (1768-1851) was an active participant in the failed Irish rebellion of 1798. And James O’Hara (1844-1905), of Irish and West-Indian descent, was the fifth black congressman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the sole black member of the House when he was elected in 1883. He spent his term engaging in the hard-fought battle to keep newly imposed civil rights in place and working to enact more.

Novelist John O’Hara. (Photo: Library of Congress)

In religion, Irish-born Rev. William O’Hara (1816-1899) was the first Catholic bishop to be appointed to the episcopate of Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1868. He also founded St. Thomas College in 1897, now called the University of Scranton.

O’Haras have also had a significant impact on the arts over time. Kane O’Hara (1712-1782), a County Sligo librettist, wrote the comic opera Midas, which related the humorous interactions between the classical gods and mortals. It was performed publicly for the first time in Dublin in 1762.

Irish actress Maureen O’Hara (1920-2015), a member of the Irish America Hall of Fame and known for her numerous films with John Wayne and long career portraying strong, proud Irish women, was born a FitzSimons, but made O’Hara a household name by taking it to work in the film industry.

Poet Frank O’Hara.

Irish Canadian Catherine O’Hara, who currently stars as Moira Rose on POP TV’s Schitt’s Creek, has built a 42-year long career as a comedic actress in both film and television.

In literature, prolific Irish American novelist John O’Hara (1905-1970) wrote such memorable, effective portrayals of his time that several were translated onto the silver screen. His stories “BUtterfield 8” and “From the Terrace” were both released as films in 1960, starring (respectively) Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman.

Irish American poet Frank O’Hara (1926-1966) was internationally renowned for the unique style of his work, incorporating a copious knowledge of art and music seamlessly into his poems, and respected for his leadership in the New York School of poets as well as his close work with New York City’s Museum of Modern Art.

Actress Catherine O’Hara. (Photo: CBC / Youtube Screenshot)

And, though fictional, Scarlett O’Hara, protagonist of Margaret Mitchell’s 1939 novel Gone with the Wind, may be one of the most iconic personages to bear the surname, which speaks to Mitchell’s own Irish roots: her great-grandfather Philip Fitzgerald and grandfather John Stephens both emigrated individually from Ireland to Georgia.

Finally, there is Tony Award-winning actress Kelli O’Hara (b. 1976), a member of this year’s class of Irish America Hall of Fame inductees. ♦

22 Responses to “Roots: The O’Hara Clan”

  1. Michael Ohara says:

    Thanks for your research on the O’hara name. It was really interesting to learned some things about accomplished Irish people in Ireland, and in the states.

  2. Isabella O'Hara says:

    This was really interesting and fun to read, and now I know where my roots come from.

  3. patrick o'hara says:

    nice to hear about of o’hara, my father came from scranton pa.iam a native virginian born and raised in norfolf va. but i know my name has a great past.

  4. Conor O'Hara says:

    Thank you for taking the time to create this! Need to visit Hawaii soon!

    ‘Hope to be added to this list one day for my film studio and think tank’s respective contributions to the world.

  5. Carrie O'Hara says:

    Looking for more information on clan history, not american history of the name, any suggestions? I want to go back as far as possible, before the English ruined us, if possible.

  6. Torin O'Hara says:

    This is really cool to learn!

  7. Thank you for the info! I’m an O’Hara, born and currently living in Northern California.

  8. Patrick O'Hara says:

    Interesting thank you. I am an O’Hara we are from County Longford originally but like many Irish people we moved to London to build roads and infrastructure. We settled in North West London in an area heavily populated by Irish immigrants. My name in gaelic – Padraig Eadhra. I would urge every O’Hara to resist the removal of the O prefix and the apostrophe from their name. The internet and the modern world generally does not cope well with this cultural oddity.

  9. Logan Connor O’Hara says:

    I absolutely love learning about my ancestry and collective and cultural history. I feel honored to bear a name of such long history and achievement. I’ve been reading the verse in the Book of O’Hara, recently, and I highly recommend it. It’s an An Duanaire, or poetry book, and it contains dozens of poems about Cormac Ó hÉaghra from the 1500s and other legends of the O’Hara family.

  10. Elizabeth O'hara says:

    Centuries of O’Hara’s and just ran into this site – found many truths and this is the importance – Book of O’Hara – Rare – My Uncle Barnie & I served and if any interest on the why’s O’Hara vs O’Hare: look up: LTC Bernard O’Hare- obituary – An Officer & a Gentleman: our History before Irelands breaking off – these two (2) Irish FAMILIES – Legends: Catholic vs Protestant’s = O’Hara’s & O’Hare! Here is where changes created History, Legends & Families! This Old Irish woman is the last and as I hire this carpenter to create my Final Resting place to tell my Irish Legacy I pray that our youths continue our Amazing Legacy…Remember what this phase truly means: “LUAS DIA” – OUR JOURNEY – NOT OUR DEATH – ..”God Speed” my lil Darling O’Hara’s!

    • Shawn Enser says:

      My grandmother was Delores O’Hara she use to tell us stories of Ireland and why if we ever went…. why not to ever kiss the Blarney stone… the local kids pee on it she says lol…. anyway may you be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows your dead..

  11. O'harrah says:

    Very interestingl site learn alot. Still trying to find when we came over from Irland. Had to be early to mid 1700s , last found in pa.

  12. Catherine O'Hara says:

    Reading this from Hawaii! Just moved here, but I had no idea. Also, it’s fun when people point out they see my name in movie credits 🙂

  13. Clair O'Hara says:

    I love my name.Clair O’Hara. My great grandfather disappeared early after my grandfather was born. *Jerk. But my love for my last name is beyond. I went to Trinity College…they said Sligo is where most of the clan came from. I went there. Walked the streets, wondering if any of the people I walked by were distant relatives. One can dream of a past they don’t have any information on:(

  14. Jodie Stark says:

    Any oharas related to starks ive heard somewhere down my family tree my granda walter stark was related to oharas from ireland

  15. Karen OHara says:

    The O’Hara’s in my family reside in New Orleans, Louisiana and began as part of The Irish Channel in New Orleans in the 1800s.

  16. Francisca O'Hara Aidoo says:

    I’m Ghanaian but I and my family poses the name O’Hara along with a Fanti name Aidoo. I always wondered where my dad got the name from. I don’t know yet, but at least I know it’s origin now. Thank you very much.

  17. Dennis O'hara says:

    Live in garden homes IL always love my name looks good in print !

  18. Maureen O’Hara says:

    I’m an OHarafrom Glasgow Scotland,always loved my. Name,every one loved it because of the beautiful Actress xx xx

  19. Sean O'Hara says:

    Thank you for this! Its a great resource, and I cannot wait to show my family!

  20. Mike O'Hara says:

    O’Hara Rules!

  21. Aaron O’Hara says:

    Thank you for the history and knowledge of the O’Hara family!

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